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"The Walking Dead" — "Say The Word": One Man's Gloom, Another Man's Glory

By TK Burton | TV | November 13, 2012 |

By TK Burton | TV | November 13, 2012 |

It’s difficult to rebound from a “The Walking Dead” episode like last week’s “Killer Within,” one of the best episodes of the series. Yes, the somewhat ignominious death of T-Dog was not only a low-point for the episode but for the show as a whole (actually, that could be said of the character’s entire “arc”), but there’s no denying that it was an unquestionably catalytic episode. It’s an episode where everything changed, and we’re already seeing the ripple effects of those changes in “Say The Word.”

Of course, the immediate and obvious issue is the child, which is going to be a severe complication for the remainder of the group’s odyssey. But she also served as an excellent little character development piece for some of the group’s members, most notably Daryl and Maggie, who leaped into action to provide the little one with sustenance. Daryl in particular showed an engaging new side both in his lightning-fast decision-making as well as his unexpectedly tender moment upon his return. Maggie also showed the kind of strength and confidence that once again proves that she may well be the most well-developed female character that the show currently has to offer.

Yet in Rick’s absence (we’ll get to that in a moment), there was a real “it takes a village” mentality that took over the group, as Glenn poured his frustrations into digging graves, but also took up Hershel’s call to try to quell the increasing madness in Rick. The newcomers, Axel and Oscar (played by Lew Temple and Vincent Ward, respectively) certainly showed their willingness to do the dirty work, but one can but hope that they’ll be expanded to doing more than digging holes and breaking skulls. They both seem like potentially interesting new elements.

Over in Woodbury, things heated up and the picture of just what the town really is becomes more and more puzzling and disturbing. Allusions to strange experiments conducted by the oddball Milton, vicious gladiatorial matches that show the townspeople’s unusual thirst for bloodsport, and more signs of the harsh, cruel Merle that we met back in Season One — all signs that something is decidedly rotten in Woodbury, and all captured cleverly by the show runners. There was a stunning juxtaposition between the Woodbury of daylight, all summer dresses and cold drinks and laughter, and the Woodbury that comes up when the sun comes down, filled with violence and bitter bloodlust and back-alley entertainment. Sanctioned by the people or not, staged or not (and I’m guessing… not), it was a brutal, unpleasant sight to behold.

Caught in the middle of this chaos was Andrea and Michonne, and I have to admit that the pair of them are becoming increasingly frustrating. Andrea continues to suddenly become the blindly desperate, bright-eyed dimwit, a role that is rather at odds with the tough, hardened soldier from the past two seasons. Perhaps she’s simply tired of the fight, the struggle, the hardscrabble battle for survival, and she simply wants a place to belong and to relax. This is all understandable, yet the problem is that she ignores all the signs of trouble around her.

This isn’t helped by an utterly terribly written Michonne. The most frustrating, and least realistic way one can portray a character is to refuse to allow them to communicate clearly. Michonne, for inexplicable reasons, is incapable of forming a coherent sentence with a direct point. She glares and pouts and speaks in allusion and hints, making clever intimations of discoveries without ever actually saying anything. The entire conflict with Andrea could have been avoided if she’d simply given more than “this place isn’t what it looks like.” In a show that prides itself on well-drawn players with realistic, rational decision-making processes, people that have demonstrable evolutions and cogent, intelligent character designs, the inexplicable communication breakdown between them seems that much more pointless.

But in the end, this episode was about Rick and The Governor. A couple of weeks ago, reader and commenter catagisreading made this astute observation: “There is a fine line between the two and you have to wonder depending on what happens to you, do you even notice when you become the guy with a room of floating heads.” Given Rick’s Colonel Kurtz-esque descent into madness, that’s an apt description of the surprisingly thin line between the two very different men. Rick’s grief is barely even grief anymore — it’s a raw, unfocused madness. His sense of loss is so total, so all-encompassing, that neither the cry of his newborn daughter nor the intervention of one of his best friends could draw him out of his blind, blood-crazed fury.

At the same time, the increasingly disturbing truths about the Governor continue to be unveiled. It’s bad enough that he’s an insidious yet charismatic creep who keeps a room full of heads, but now we learn that his daughter, his beloved Penny, is a zombie as well. His yet-to-be revealed machinations were perhaps the best part of the episode, filling it with enough tension and twitchy, nerve-wracking hints that nothing in Woodbury ever felt comfortable. In fact, in the end the discovery of their thirst for bloody combat was the least disturbing thing we learned. The fact is that what we are seeing is two very different, yet strangely similar types of insanity being played out by two very solid lead actors. They’ve flipped the paradigm for madness in “The Walking Dead,” wherein the protagonist has devolved into little more than a raging animal, and the one in the shadows keeps his psychosis carefully, meticulously contained. When those two paths eventually intersect, we should be in for something truly terrifying.

And then, in the midst of all those thoughts? The phone rings.

TK Burton is an Editorial Consultant. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.